Here are the latest Let’s Go With The Children film reviews you can see on the big screen and via streaming or download sites.
The below film guides are written by Mike Davies for Let’s Go with the Children especially with families and kids in mind. Everything from small-scale films to great blockbusters for all the family! Please note that not all 12A films are appropriate for younger children. Let’s Go With The Children offers a guide to what’s suitable for family viewing.
The latest Disney animated venture from the director behind Frozen, this feels like a rehash of themes and ideas from the studios past and better films. It’s set in Rosas, a mythical Mediterranean island kingdom where, when they turn 18, the citizens hand over their biggest wish to not entirely benevolent self-taught self-absorbed sorcerer King Magnifico (Chris Pine doing his best but simply not good enough) who keeps them safe in bubbles in his castle conservatory, in the hope he will one day grant them, he insisting it’s a small price to pray for their safety.
However, when, having poked her nose where it didn’t belong in an audition to become his apprentice, Magnifico not only refuses to grant her grandfather Sabino’s wish (to play guitar and sing to people) for his 100th birthday but tells her it will never be granted (inspiring people’s too dangerous), feisty biracial 17-year-old Asha (Ariana DeBose), starts to question things. That night, wanting more for herself and her kingdom, she wishes on a star and suddenly along comes Star, a glowing cute little orb (and plush merchandising opportunity) that confers her pet goat Valentino (Alan Tudyk), as the obligatory anthropomorphic sidekick, and other assorted animals, with the power to speak and the three of them set about planning to free all the wishes Magnifico is holding captive.
While Magnifico is pretty much standard issue Disney villain, here he does have an initially sympathetic backstory and good intentions, but is seduced into his tyranny by using the power of dark magic, alienating him from his good-hearted Queen (Angelique Cabral), who leans towards Asha’s vision of a free and united kingdom. However, while DeBose is charming enough and Tudyk gets some snarky lines, the film is a decidedly lacklustre affair, with unmemorable songs and the Spider-Verse styled combination of 2D and 3D animation lacks sparkle. It also has an unfortunate habit of referencing previous Disney gems (Asha’s friends, among them Dahlia and comical cynic Gabo, are basically rehashes of the Seven Dwarfs, and there’s a deer called Bambi), extended to the end credits where characters like Pinocchio and Snow White appear as constellation-style twinkling stars, that simply reinforces how inferior it is. Younger children, girls especially, will find it entertaining enough but they might wish for something better next time.
The Hunger Games: The Ballad Of Songbirds And Snakes (12A)
Adapted from Suzanne Collins prequel to her bestselling series (Katniss Everdeen getting a sly reference), divided into three chapters this provides a backstory of how Coriolanus Snow, played by Donald Sutherland in the trilogy, rose up to become the tyrannical ruler of Panem. It opens with news that General Crassus Snow as been killed during the First Rebellion of the Districts. Fast forward ten years and the family (including cousin Tigris Snow, who eventually becomes Katniss’s ally in the saga) have fallen on hard times, his now teenage son Coriolanus (Tom Blyth) determined to restore their fortunes and, like his fellow members of the Capitol Academy, is assigned to mentor one of the tributes in the upcoming 10th annual Hunger Games, a new addition by Head Gamemaker Dr Volumnia Gaul (Viola Davis sporting different coloured eyes) in an attempt to reverse the falling ratings. Snow’s tribute is Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler) from District 12 (though she’s not native there), a feisty country folk singer, the songbird of the title, with a drawled Southern accent who immediately grabs attention in the televised Reaping by slipping a snake down the back of the mayor’s daughter and delivering a powerful protest song. Snow is drawn to her (romance later blossoming) and determines to keep her alive, although Casca Highbottom (Peter Dinklage), Dean of the Academy and the originator of the Hunger Games alongside Snow’s father, cautions him the Games, hosted for the first time by hosted by flamboyant Lucretious “Lucky” Flickerman (Jason Schwartzman), played out in the Capitol Arena as the tribute battle to the death, should be about spectacle not survival.
Spun out beyond two and a half hours, with the second chapter being the Games enacted in the Arena, demolished by a rebellion bomb, as the tributes kill each other, Snow’s fellow mentor and friend Sejanus Plinth (Josh Andrés Rivera), son of a bigwig in District 2 breaking the rules by going in to try and save his tribute, Jessop, also from District 12, while Snow himself cheats by providing Lucy Gray with means to survive both the other tributes who have teamed up as The Pack and the thousands of the titular serpents Gaul drops in their midst.
To which end both he and Plinth are demoted and exiled to serve as ordinary Peacekeepers in District 12, the latter hoping to make a difference, the former hoping to reunite with Lucy Gray (who won the games) if she’s still alive. And. heading into Chapter III, she definitely is, now fronting the Covey, a nomadic folk group who were neutral in the civil war. However, Plinth’s sympathies for the rebels wind up in an act of betrayal, several executions and Coriolanus and Snow going on the run before things take a turn in the final act which sees Snow enacting his own revenge and calculating setting himself up to take over the Games and, ultimately, Panem.
Though it could well have been trimmed down, it’s fair to say the running time doesn’t overly drag as it moves been machinations, manipulations, bloody battles and tender romance, the charismatic Zegler getting to deliver several more rather good vocal performances along the way. She and Blyth have solid chemistry, the latter, who goes from looking like a young Bob Geldof to a blonde cropped Draco Malfoy, subtly shading his character’s gradual transition from idealist to schemer and eventual series villain.
Given that in the novel Lucy Gray’s eventual fate is never revealed, it’s not impossible that a second transitionary sequel might be on the cards if this performs well – and Collins writes another book, which could be rather more welcome than you might have expected.
The Marvels (12A)
This brings together three female superheroes who all have, in different forms, the ability to harness the power of light. That’ll be Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) in a follow-up to Miss Marvel, now roaming the galaxy in her own spacecraft, Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), the now grown astronaut daughter of Carol’s late best friend Maria (Lashana Lynch), who works alongside Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) in his new SABER organisation and gained her powers in WandaVision (and whose lack of a code name serves as a running gag), and New Jersey’s Pakistani-American schoolgirl Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), from the Disney+ TV series (its use of animation incorporated in introducing her here), an over-exuberant Miss Marvel mega-fan whose powers come from a magical bracelet.
The bracelet, or quantum band, however, turns out to have a Kree origin and is one of a pair, the other being recovered at the start of the film by Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton) who has an understandable vendetta against Danvers – who the Kree know as The Annhilator for reasons explained later– and needs the two of them to restore life to her home planet of Hela. As such, her motives are sympathetic, her means, which include trying to wipe out the Skrulls, rather less so. Her acquisition of the bangle also causes the three Marvels to body-swap (quantum entanglement, apparently) every time they use their powers, initially creating havoc in Kamala’s home, then affording some skipping rope fun and later proving invaluable in the battle with Dar-Benn.
Despite a plot that involves intergalactic genocide and planet asset stripping, there’s a great deal of playfulness here, notably a sequence set on a world where Miss Marvel is a marriage of convenience princess and where everyone dances as they sing their dialogue and one where, in an effort to evacuate the space station, Fury has the crew ‘eaten’ up by a horde of Flerken kitties who spew purple tentacles that swallow things up, all scored to Memory from Andrew Lloyd-Weber’s Cats musical.
There’s also a great deal of hanging out and banter between the three heroes, all of whom have their own identity issues, the actresses making good use of their individual skill sets and personalities as the film digs into their characters. The problem is, however, what with jump points opening up everywhere in the space, and the action leaping from planet to planet, the narrative is frequently borderline incoherent. Fortunately, unlike the recent slate of Marvel outings, this has a trim running time into which it packs an inordinate amount of plot, redemption and coming of age arcs and action sequences.
Zenobia Shroff, Mohan Kapur and Saagar Shaikh add extra comedic touches as Kamala’s concerned and long-suffering parents and older brother while Tessa Thompson puts in a quickie crossover appearance as Valkyrie, the film closing up with the briefly united trio now on their individual plotlines, providing two mid-credits sequences; the first with a cameo from Hawkeye’s Kate Bishop (Hailee Stanfield) as Ms Marvel sets out to create a new team, and the second, with Rambeau now in a parallel universe, a new incarnation for Maria and the return of Kelsey Grammar’s Hank McCoy from the X-Men series. If superhero fatigue doesn’t overwhelm, that’s at least three new sequels or spin-offs in the wings.
Trolls Band Together (U)
It’s extremely unlikely that the target audience – or indeed their parents – will have ever heard of 90s American boyband NSYNC or care that the film marks their first new music in 22 years, reuniting them with former member Justin Timberlake who provides the voice of Branch, the grumpy grey Troll now officially dating (though both protest any idea of marriage) the pink Poppy (Anna Kendrick), queen of the Trolls. However, he has a secret in that, as Baby Branch, he was once part of siblings boy band BroZone before he screwed up on stage and the others walked out on him.
This comes to light when one of his estranged brothers, John Dory (Eric André), turns up out of the blue proposing a band reunion and another brother Floyd (Troye Sivan) is kidnapped by Velvet (Amy Schumer) and Veneer (Andrew Rannells), a talentless brother-sister double act who intend to chemically extract his talent to win a singing contest. The only way to stop them is for BroZone to reunite and use their family harmony to shatter his diamond prison and save him. In fact, Branch isn’t the only one to have a surprise sibling turn up with the exuberant Viva (Camila Cabello) announcing she’s Poppy’s long lost sister.
Each Trolls film seems to get more bonkers and trippy than the last and this is decidedly out there (at one point Cloud Guy vomits rainbow glitter), returning characters including Bridget (Zooey Deschanel), the Bergen monster who gets married wearing a wedding dress of white helium balloons hiding a trouser suit and roller skates, the silver sparkly scene stealing Tiny (Kenan Thompson), and King Gristle (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) while among the new names to the franchise there’s Ru Paul (Miss Maxine) and Kid Cudi and Daveed Diggs as the other brothers, Clay and Spruce. Naturally, it’s littered with boyband puns (One Direction, Backtsreet Boys, Boyz To Men, etc.), NYSNCs’ Better Place and an array of R&B tracks (as well as a version of Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 by Zosia Mamet as the duo’s put-upon assistant Crimp) while the vibrant, loopy animation even takes a trip into psychedelic 2D as it rams home its we are family message. Barking mad but a sugar rush of fun.
Spy Kids: Armageddon (PG)
Some of you may remember the original Spy Kids films which, written and directed by Robert Rodriguez had Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara discovering that their parents Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino were secret agents, the four teaming up on missions. Well, forget all that. This reboot has the same premise but an entirely new family with Zachary Levi and Gina Rodriguez as OSS agents Terrence Tango and Nora Torrez. It opens with their young kids game whizz Tony (Connor Esterson) and smartypants Patty (Everly Carganilla) dodging traps and guards as they seek to prevent something called Armageddon before plummeting down a lift. It then flashes back as we learn that Armageddon is a top secret code invented by Terrence that can access anything and that a game inventor who calls himself The King (Billy Magnussen) I trying to steal it for his own purposes. And to access their security systems, he sneaks through the backdoor when he makes Tony, whose dad clamps down on too much tech, the winner of his new game Hyscore, unleashing a virus when he plays, sending his game characters to capture the code. Mum and dad send the kids off to a safe house, Nora giving Patty the key to one half of unlocking Armageddon. And when they discover the truth about their parents in the secret aid, they decide to become spy themselves, going through training and creating sky suits, to rescue mum and dad and defeat The King using their video game skills.
Unusually the villain of the piece wants to rule the world, but only so he can make it a nicer place which rather makes the whole race to stop him a bit underwhelming, but hey, the message is people have to be nice because they want to not because they’re forced to play video games to get what they want. Pitched very much at eight-year-olds who still like playing make-believe, it looks fairly cheap with its special effects and gadgets, the adults sound bored with it all and the kids are, quite frankly, as amateurish and childish as their dialogue. But then it never really pretends to be anything other than what it is as it heads to an ending that has the bad guy having a change of heart and the kids becoming proper OSS spies readying up for any potential sequel. Still, it passes the time amiably enough.
You Are So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah! (12)
One of Netflix’s biggest hits this year, though produced by Adam Sandler he takes a backseat as, adapted by Alison Peck from Fiona Rosenbloom’s novel, he plays Danny Friedman, father to daughters Ronnie, the serious one, and the more immature Stacy, played respectively by his own daughters Sadie and Sunny, while reuniting with Uncut Gems co-star Idira Menzel as his wife. The younger of the two, Sunny is approaching her bat mitzvah, the Jewish coming-of-age ritual at 13, in which she has to read passages from the Torah and devise a charity project. She, of course, is more concerned about the accompanying party as she and best friend Lydia (Samantha Lorraine), whose mother’s played by Sandler’s wife Jackie, enthusing over themes and what the future will hold, like adjoining homes in Taylor Swift’s Tribeca building. Lydia writes Stacy’s speech and she in turn offers to put together her entrance video biography.
Things, however, soon turn pear-shaped starting with Stacy leaping off a cliff into the water in order to impress her crush, class heartthrob Andy Goldfarb (Dylan Hoffman), resulting in a humiliating moment, and a subsequent falling out with Lydia when she sees her kissing him, prompting the angry declaration of the title and a rather cruel revenge.
Comparisons with Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret are inevitable, not least in Stacy’s own chats with the Man Upstairs, while it also follows genre conventions such as the school’s catty queen bees, the embarrassing parents (Danny’s dad jokes), the shopping sequences and all those girls want to be grown up moments, here largely embodied in a geeky friend being excited to finally shave her legs.
Although it helps considerably if you’re familiar with Jewish culture to get the references and appreciate the jokes involving Jewish mothers, dads, grannies and aunts, it’s nevertheless all very sweet and consistently funny, the entire Sandler clan having solid comedic chops (though Sunny is undoubtedly the star turn) while great support comes from Sarah Sherman as the perky Rabbi Rebecca (who gets to sing God Is Random in response to her class asking why He allows injustice) and Ido Mosseri as the wildly over the top DJ Schmuley. Forget the invite, this is well worth crashing the party.
Blue Beetle (12A)
Drawing on the most recent version of the character (though the film references two previous incarnations from 1939 and 1964), this presents the first Latino super-hero in the DC universe in the form of Jamie Reyes (Cobra Kai star Xolo Maridueña). He’s a recent Gotham University law graduate who, returning to his Texas home in Palmera City, finds prospects are few and his Mexican family, grandmother Nana (Adriana Barazza), mum Rocio (Elpidia Carrillo), dad Alberto (Damián Alcázar) and conspiracy nut tech wiz uncle Rudy (George Lopez), who live in a poor neighbourhood, are about to lose their home. While out house cleaning with his sister Milagro (Belissa Escobedo) at the Kord mansion he sparks a connection with subsequent romantic interest Jenny Kord (Bruna Marquezine), whose aunt Victoria (Susan Sarandon) took control of Kord Industries from Jenny’s father, Ted, died, and has plans to create a privatised police force called One-Man Army Corps. However, Jenny manages to steal a crucial part of the project and slip it to an unsuspecting Jamie who, returning home, discovers to his surprise that the fast food box she gave him contains a blue metallic scarab. Even more of a surprise is that it attaches itself to him, fusing with his mind and body, covering him in armour with a pair of blue pincers on his back, the ability to fly and, as the voice inside his head (Becky G), which controls the scarab, tells him, create any weapon he can imagine. He’s a regular super-hero. There’s just two downsides. The only way to be rid of it is to die. And Victoria wants it back. Now, together Jamie, Jenny and his family (nana revealing an unexpected secret past) need to obtain a key to her father’s old lab and defeat Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo), an OMAC prototype, all culminating in an explosive climax on an island just off Cuba.
Comic book nerds will enjoy the references to the two earlier Blue Beetles as well as The Bug, an armoured VTOL vehicle with yellow fly-like eyes, while director Ángel Manuel Soto carries along newcomers with a potent mix of high octane (and at times quite violent) action and the emotional undercurrent of family being there for each other, serious when the narrative requires it but also with a light-hearted humour reminiscent of the first Ant-Man. Maridueña energetically plays Jamie, bewildered by what’s happening to him, with a combination of ingenuousness and grit while the largely unknown support cast all hold up their end of proceedings to solid and engaging effect with the visual effects suitably spectacular. As a launch of a new chapter in the DC universe, this should leave you truly bug-eyed.
Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles – Mutant Mayhem (PG)
Created as a comic book by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird in 1984 to parody superhero stories, three underwhelming live action adaptations arrived in the early 90s with a seeming last gasp fourth arriving as computer animation in 2007. Two animated reboots followed in 2014 and 2016, the first a huge success, the second a flop. Now comes another reboot which, directed by Jeff Rowe, who made The Mitchells vs The Machines, while computer animated wisely harks back to the hand-drawn look and scribbled lines of the original comics and the early animated TV series and, if not as wildly hyperactive and psychedelic as the Spider-Verse films, has a compelling dynamic visual energy to match a sharp script.
It goes back to the beginning to provide an origin story as, breaking with his employers and their military ambitions, scientist Dr Stockman (Giancarlo Esposito) created a bunch of mutant embryos in an underground lab and, when a Techno Cosmic Research Institute strike force was sent by his erstwhile boss Cynthia Utro (Maya Rudolph) to seize his work, he ended up dead while a vial of his mutant-inducing green goo (henceforth known as the ooze) seeped into the New York sewers, mutating for baby turtles and the rat that took them in. Fast forward 15 years and the now teenage turtles, named (but never explained in the film after Renaissance Italian artists) Donatello (Micah Abbey), Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr), Raphael (Brady Noon) and the self-serious Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu), live secretly in the sewers, only venturing out at night to obtain groceries – especially pizza – for themselves and their overprotective surrogate father, Splinter (Jackie Chan), who, after an initial attempt to mingle with humans ended in disaster, trained them in the martial arts and forbade them to reveal themselves to the world, warning that humans will want to capture them and “milk” them for their mutant DNA. They, however, yearn to be accepted, and go to school, sneaking off to watch a film or a concert (Beyonce gets namechecked) while out foraging. Such opportunity presents itself when they accidentally cross paths with April O’Neill (Ayo Edebiri), an aspiring high school reporter (nicknamed Puke Girl, but you need to see the hilarious gross out scene to know why) and set off to recover her motorbike when it’s stolen which, in turn, involves them in her quest to find out who’s behind a series of high tech thefts, reportedly the work of someone known as Superfly (Ice Cube), she filming their Turtles’ exploits to present them as heroes.
This, it turns out, is the grown version of Stockman’s original creation who saw off the attackers and escaped with the other creature he was experimented on and who now form his mutated followers Genghis Frog (Hannibal Buress), alligator Leatherhead (Rose Byrne), rhino Rocksteady (John Cena), bat Wingnut (Natasia Demetriou), manta Ray Fillet (Post Malone), warthog Bebop (Seth Rogen, also one of the co-writers), Mondo Gecko (a scene stealing Paul Rudd amusingly credited as “introducing”) and the indeterminate Scumbug. The Turtles are initially delighted to learn they have mutant cousins who also desire to be accepted, until they learn of Superfly’s plant to mutate all creatures and wipe out humans, leading up to an explosive climax as they, Splinter (who gets a far bigger action role this time), April and the others battle to defeat the now supermutated Superfly.
Channelling themes about acceptance, intolerance of difference, family, friendship, coming of age and the need to work together, the inspired casting of actual teenagers injecting relevance and authenticity into the Turtles’ banter, the film rattles along with a series of exhilarating action sequences intermingled with self-aware pop culture gags such as a cardboard cut of Chris Prine’s Captain Kirk. It is, perhaps, excessively violent in places, especially the use of knives, for the young audience but with the obligatory mid-credits scene setting up a Shredder sequel, the heroes in a half shell are back where they belong.
While undeniably visually dazzling, the latest from Pixar Fire recycles some very well-worn themes and messages about family, prejudice, working together, tolerance, opposites attract, self-discovery and finding your courage. It’s set in a world of characters formed of the four elements, with fire elements Bernie (Ronnie Del Carmen) and Cinder (Shila Ommi) Lumen (clearly Chinese) emigrating to Element City looking for a better life where, despite encountering xenophobia from the other elements and struggling to find a home (the landlords are all earth, tree-like figures who see fire as a hazard), they eventually set up a convenience store called the Fireplace with a symbolic Blue Flame representing their heritage and traditions, selling things like coal nuts. They have a daughter, the dutiful if headstrong Ember (Leah Lewis), whom Bernie intends to take over the store when he retires. But first she had to learn to control her fiery temper. When a difficult customer causes that to flare up, she takes refuge in the basement, accidentally causing a water pipe to break, flooding the place and bringing water element Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie), into her life. A city inspector, he has to report the faulty plumbing to his cloud-like air element boss Gale Cumulus, meaning the Fireplace will get shut down. But he’s also a soppy romantic and he persuades Gale to let them both try and find and stop the source of a series of recent floods. If they can seal the leak, the shop can remain open.
Discovering a hole in a dam that lets through water from passing ships, and, first using sandbags and then Ember’s power to create glass, they appear to have solved the problem. And, in the process, a, ahem, spark, develops between them, discovering they can touch each other without causing any harm. But, while Wade’s upmarket family welcome her into their home, Ember’s ailing father seems highly unlikely to accept a Fire and Water relationship , on top of which, Ember comes to realise her dreams for herself are not the same as his. She wants to study glassmaking. But it’s her duty to obey. And then the fix in the dam gives way, catastrophe looms and love might quite literally evaporate.
Aside from the characters’ names, it’s awash with visual and verbal puns (two of the best being a literal Mexican wave and thought bubble) and, despite gaping holes in the logic (why would fire opt to go and live in a water-based city, why doesn’t Ember set the cardboard boxes alight?), it combines a spry sense of fun ( the Ripple family’s crying game is a joy) along with the usual romantic and emotional complications, the blossoming love story involving Wade taking Ember into the flooded Garden Central Station to see the Vivisteria flowers she never saw as a child. As such, while the youngsters will enjoy the vividly coloured visuals and the enjoyable silliness of the air and earth figures (though hope they don’t ask to have ‘pruning’ explained), this is very much a hugely enjoyable and thoughtful grown up star-crossed love story that touches on living in a multicultural melting pot society. A rare case where parents really should persuade the kids to let them take them to see it.
Opening with the heroic Gloreth establishing an order of knights dedicated to protecting the world from the monsters that lurk outside its walls, this animated fantasy adventure fast forwards a 1000 years to a futuristic city and, headed by The Director (Frances Conroy), the Institute where the queen is about to appoint new knights from the graduating cadets, among them Ambrosius Goldenloin (Eugene Lee Yang), a descendent of Gloreth, and Ballister Boldheart (Riz Ahmed). The latter is controversial given that he will be the first commoner accorded such an honour in the queen’s intention to give everyone a chance to be a hero and Ballister is understandly worried that, like bullying fellow cadet Todd (Beck Bennett) everyone will hate him. Instead, he’s met with cheers- until, that is, a laser ray shoots from his high-tech sword and kills the queen, leading to Ambrosius chopping off his arm and Bal fleeing, a wanted murderer. But then, in hiding, he finds himself visited by Nimona (Chloë Grace Moretz), a rebellious punky teenager outsider who, assuming him to be a villain, declares herself his self-appointed sidekick (“Because I’m bored, and everyone hates me too”). She is, however, more than a sassy, sparky, streetsmart misfit teen. As he discovers when she rescues him from prison, she’s a shapeshifter capable of transforming into a pink rhino, bear, bird, a whale and even a dancing shark, who revels in causing chaos and smashing things up. She is, in fact, exactly the sort of monster the knights are supposed to destroy. Instead, the two now find themselves joining forces to clear Bal’s name and expose the real murderer. The identity of whom it’s not too hard to work out, but then, as the opening voiceover states, things have a habit of not having the simply resolved happy endings fairytales usually demand.
Adapted from a subversive graphic novel by ND Stevenson and rescued by Netflix after being cancelled by Disney, this is very much a contemporary 2D-3D animation, not just in its dazzling visuals but in its storyline and themes. It’s revealed early on that Bal and Ambrosius are gay lovers while, uncomfortable in her ‘normal’ skin, Nimona is driven by a need to transition. Meanwhile, with the inventive narrative, twisting there’s also familiar messages about intolerance, irrational prejudice and how, in as world where kids “grow up believing that they can be a hero if they drive a sword into the heart of anything different”, if we treat people as monsters, they’re likely to become monsters.
With her catchphrase ‘metal’ and plans that rarely go beyond “Chaos, destruction, something-something-something, we win”, Nimona is a priceless animated anti-hero, her spirit and irreverent humour exuberantly captured by Moretz’s voice work while Ahmed brings the pathos and more serious notes. Driven by a punk-fuelled soundtrack that includes The Banana Splits and guitar riffs by former Sex Pistols Steve Jones, it barrels along with fast-paced action and an utterly infectious sense of anarchy and fun. The ending lays possible ground for a sequel, and one would be very welcome indeed. 101 minutes
Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves (12A)
It’s been 23 years since the first adaptation of the first role-playing phenomenon that has established itself as one of the world’s most successful board games was released to coruscating reviews and box office disaster, Since then there’s been a couple of sequels, one for TV and one direct to DVD, neither of which fared much better. Now, however, 11 years since the last outing, directed by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley and co-written with Michael Gilio, and with no connection to its predecessors, it has been reborn to deservedly thunderous acclaim to stake a claim as one of the year’s most entertaining, enjoyable and spectacular adventure movies.
In this revision, a peak self-mocking Chris Pine is Edgin Darvis, a former member of the Harpers until his wife was killed by a Red Wizard, following which he went rogue and, looking to make a new life for himself and his daughter Kira (Chloe Coleman),, joined forces with street-tough barbarian warrior Holga Kilgore (Michelle Rodriguez), amateur sorcerer Simon (Justice Smith), and con artist Forge Fitzwilliam (Hugh Grant in gloriously smarmy scenery chewing villain mode). Infiltrating a former Harper stronghold to steal the Tablet of Awakening that can resurrect his wife, they’re exposed and, while Forge and Simon escape, Edgin and Holga are caught and so it is that two years in, we find them appearing before a prison parole tribunal, pulling off a daring escape and seeking out Forge, only to learn that, now the Lord of Neverwinter and acting as Kira’s guardian, he has turned her against her father (saying he abandoned her for personal gain) and is, in fact, in league with his accomplice, Sofina (Daisy Head), a Red Wizard, and orders their execution. So, following another close call, with plans to break into Forge’s vault to get the Tablet of Reawakening, Edgin and Holga (who’s nursing the pain of a broken heart) track down the sweetly insecure Simon who suggests they also recruit Doric (Sophia Lillis), a sharp-tongued human-hating elfin-eared shapeshifter druid on whom he has a crush, to join the team but, without sufficient magic to disable the defences, a corpse question time with assorted dead warriors results in them calling on the ultra-cool, self-assured, irony-oblivious Xenk Yandar (Regé-Jean Page), a paladin and the sole survivor of the Thay, who were crushed by the Red Wizards, who holds the secret location of the Helmet of Disjunction that will help them overcome the barriers surrounding the vault.
Needless to say, things don’t go too smoothly and after another series of scrapes with assorted dead and living forces, the team end up finding themselves taking part in an old series of gladiatorial Games staged amid mazes in a giant arena that Forge has revived and which he intends to use to steal a fortune from the gamblers and make off with Kira, and for Sofina to turn everyone into zombie slaves. So, no pressure then.
Played out in a series of escalating quests and levels, it rattles along shooting of witty one-liners as it romps from one elaborate action set piece to another, variously involving undead assassins and fire-breaking dragons, a portal-opening hither and thither staff and a bout of lute playing. Featuring eye-popping state of the art digital effects and cinematography, knowing self-aware dialogue, outstanding cast chemistry and a screenplay than can shift from wild slapstick to piercing poignancy at the snap of a finger, not to mention a star turn cameo playing Holga’s dwarf former lover, this will be every D&D fan’s wet dream (with a pleasing nod to characters from the game during the maze sequence) but has more than enough chutzpah to knock the fantasy socks off anyone with even a passing interest in family-fuelled franchises like Game Of Thrones, Lord of the Rings or even Fast and Furious. 134 minutes
Now TV, Sky Cinema
The Little Mermaid (PG)
The 1989 original having revitalised Disney’s animation, directed by Rob Marshall this now does the same for the studio’s live action remakes which have steadily gone from the awesome Mulan to the turgid Pinocchio. You’ll be familiar with the story, driven by curiosity, headstrong dreamer teenage mermaid Ariel (Halle Bailey) ignores her father, Triton (Javier Bardem), King of the Seas, who, after her mother as killed, forbids her to go to the surface or, worse, make contact with humans. As such, during a storm, she saves the life of Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) and is taken with his kindness (he rescues a dog from the burning galleon) and good looks, while, hazily glimpsing her as he lies on the shore, he’s equally smitten. When dad finds out, he’s furious, destroying her grotto of human artefacts and ordering her to forget about him. Which is where his evil octopus sister Ursula (Melissa McCarthy cackling madly and chewing the seaweed scenery), the Sea Witch, assisted by her electric hencheels Flotsam and Jetsam, sees her opportunity and strikes a deal with Ariel; she’ll use her magic to make her human for three days but, if she and Eric haven’t had a true love kiss by the third sunset, she’ll be bound to her forever. And just to load the deck, she takes away Ariel’s siren voice (with which she saved Eric) and casts a spell to make her forget all about smooching. On land and with feet, she’s reunited with Eric but he doesn’t recognise her as the girl he’s looking for and she can’t speak. So, it’s down to her briny friends, tropical fish Flounder (Jacob Tremblay), Caribbean-accented red crab Sebastian (Daveed Diggs) and dim-witted gannet Scuttle (Awkwafina) to try and make the kiss happen before it’s too late.
Reworking Ariel’s giggling sisters in a feminist makeover to rulers of each of the seven seas, adding in new characters in the form of Eric’s adoptive mother, the Queen (Noma Dumezweni), and her factotum Grimsby (Art Malik) and making Eric more soulful than in the cartoon, while pretty much faithful to events in the original it also adds an extra hour to the running time, filling it out with stunningly beautiful underwater sequences and, Grimsby turning a blind eye, Eric and Ariel’s day out mixing and dancing the locals.
To be honest, Hauer-King is a little flat in the charisma stakes and his solo musical number, Wild Uncharted Waters, doesn’t come close to the performances elsewhere, most notably Diggs’ rendition of the calypso Under The Sea or, joined by Tremblay and Awkafina, Kiss The Girl, while, with new lyrics (as on several other songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda), McCarthy makes a meal of Poor Unfortunate Souls. There’s also a couple of new songs, Awkwafina and Diggs on the speed rap Scuttlebut and For The First Time sung by the wide-eyed Bailey (a five-time Grammy nominee with her sister Chloe, who, in her first leading role proves to be an incandescent discovery and knocks the showstopper Part Of Your World out of the ocean ballpark.
Looking stunning on the widescreen with jawdropping digital details such as Ariel’s shimmering rainbow tail, there moments that might prove dark and scary for younger audiences (Ariel and Flounder chased by a shark, the shipwreck, Ursula’s forbidding cave and her monster-sized finale), but, with its inevitable message about living in harmony rather than division, this is generally a fairy tale tsunami of unbridled joy that invites you to be part of its world.
My Fairy Troublemaker (U)
Violetta reckons she’s going to ace the tooth fairy exam (set to a forgettable rap and dance sequence) and become the most special tooth fairy ever. Perhaps she should have spent more time studying than eating cookies. So, when she fails to make the grade, she sneakily follows her more studious but pompous friend Yolando who uses a magical gem to enter the human world, and, stealing his gem and his mission, sets out to obtain a tooth from brattish city boy Sami. However, when she finds herself trapped in human reality, unable to return to fairy world and in danger of turning into a flower, she’s helped by Sami’s older stepsister, Maxie, who doesn’t feel happy in her new family or the flowers-challenged city, Violetta agreeing to use her magic to return her to her old countryside house. The problem is that the greenhouse containing the tree that is key to Violetta’s return is under threat from a property developer who plans to demolish it.
Pitched firmly at undemanding 10 year olds and younger, the animation is decent enough (the chief fairy has a hair that looks like a dandelion), but, despite its green politics, the story is predictable and flat and, for the bulk of the film, until she learns to think of others and finds her true purpose, Violetta is decidedly annoying, rude and self-centred, her fixation on chocolate seeing her snatch a bar away from a young child who bursts into tears. A little more fairy dust was definitely needed.
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 3 (12A)
While the two mid-credit scenes suggest there is the potential for a further instalment with a new roster or, at least, a prime character spin-off, this definitely brings the curtain down on director James Gunn’s saga of the dysfunctional team of malcontent heroes while also serving as an origin story for Rocket (Bradley Cooper). Still bristling at being called a racoon, he spends most of the film in a coma, hovering on the edge of death after being wounded by the golden-skinned Adam Warlock (Will Poulter), his friends unable to heal him after discovering his body has an in-built kill switch. Flashbacks to how he became who he is today are scattered throughout, revealing him to be part of a genetic experiment by the High Revolutionary (a scenery-chewing Chukwudi Iwuji) to mutate animals into anthropomorphic beings to populate his vision of a new, ideal, peaceful Earth-like planet; though he’s not above cruelty and the murder of his subjects to achieve that. Rocket, or 89P13 as he’s referred to, proved to have advanced intelligence and an unexplained success in taming his creations’ urge for violence and, having escaped (in a heartbreaking scene in which his new genetically engineered friends do not), the High Evolutionary now wants him recovered so he can access the secrets stored in his brain. To which end, to save him, Peter Quill aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Drax (Dave Bautista), Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Groot (Vin Diesel), have to somehow infiltrate Orgoscope, the High Evolutionary’s fleshy space lab station, and get the key to disable the kill switch with the help of their Knowhere comic relief associates Kraglin (Sean Gunn) and Cosmo the Space Dog (Maria Bakalova), while preventing Warlock, spurred on by his mother, Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), from abducting the wounded Rocket.
Matters among the crew are complicated by the subplot involving Quill grieving the death of his lover Gamora (a commanding Zoe Saldaña), at the hands of her step-father Thanos and unable to handle the fact that the cold resurrected version has no recollection that they were a couple and is now a member of the Ravagers (led by Sylvester Stallone), of whom he himself was once a part.
The film hops from one storyline and spectacular set piece to another, climaxing with an explosive finale on both the High Evolutionary’s ship (where cages of children are found, affording a new side of Drax to appear) and Counter-Earth, an 1980-designed biosphere based on Star-Lord’s home planet populated by genetically mutated humanimals, with Rocket now back in full on mode, the action (which may prove overly violent for some younger viewers) intercut with the franchise’s familiar wisecracking and squabbling banter between the team, set to a rock music mixtape (Radiohead’s Creep playing a significant part).
Frequently teasing the possibility that any of the team could die, Gunn juggles themes about family, friendship, animal experimentation and playing God (“There is no God! That’s why I’m taking charge!” declares the High Evolutionary) and not judging by appearances (a trio of monstrous creatures that seem to threaten Mantis, Drax and Nebula turns out to be rather cuddly). It may never quite explain Warlock’s backstory and his somewhat confusing switchback of motivations and actions and, while a nice surprise, the moment when Groot proves to have more than one phrase in his vocabulary does break with character, but it never lets go of its emotional or visceral grip, delivering a hugely satisfying send-off with the end credits featuring images of everyone who’s been involved in the saga, from Kurt Russell and Michael Rooker to Kevin Bacon and even a sly photo of Stan Lee. What the future brings remains to be seen, but for now this is the best MCU movie since Avengers Endgame.
Peter Pan & Wendy (PG)
The latest live action remake of a Disney animated classic goes back to the title of JM Barrie’s book, placing Wendy firmly in the spotlight alongside the boy who refused to grow up. Directed by David Lowery, who also did the live remake of Pete’s Dragon, keeps several details from the cartoon, notably Peter’s green hat and costume and the top hat and teddy bear associated with the Darling brothers Michael and John, but there’s some substantial updates too, such that, played by Yara Shahidi, Tinker Bell is now biracial, no longer an outdated stereotype Tiger Lily (Alyssa Wapanatâhk) gets a more heroic role and the Lost Boys include Lost Girls too. More significantly, Captain Hook (Jude Law, stealing the film) is completely reimagined to give a backstory with Peter that makes him a more poignantly sympathetic figure than any previous portrayals and also casts Peter in a very different, selfish and at times cynical light. Rather like what happens to Hook’s ship in the big swashbuckling climax, it turns their relationship upside down. There is, though, still the crocodile.
Adopting an often dark tone, literally and psychologically, it opens in Victorian England at the home of the Darlings where Michael (Jacobi Jupe) and John (Joshua Pickering) are acting out the swordfights from the bedtime stories of Peter Pan, but here older sister Wendy (Ever Anderson) enthusiastically joins in, only to be reprimanded by her father (Alan Tudyk) and mother (Molly Parker) for not setting a good example. This Wendy, resentful of being about to be sent to boarding school, is also a touch feisty, snappily saying she wants her own life, not her mother’s. Later she will slap Peter in the face for being reckless.
That night, she and the brothers are awoken by a visit from Tinker Bell and Peter (Alexander Molony), very much real and not just a character in a story, who’s come to recover his shadow and, responding to her wish to never grow up, and, with the help of pixie dust and happy thoughts, takes them flying off to Neverland. However, no sooner do they arrive than they’re bombarded by Hook’s ship, John and Michael are captured, Tinker Bell and Peter are missing in action and Wendy washes up on the shore to be found by Tiger Lily and the ethnically diverse Lost Boys led by Slightly (Down’s syndrome teenager Noah Matthews Matofsky).
Though, naturally, everything works out happily, Lowery doesn’t refrain from scenes likely to scare youngsters, such as Hook ordering the children to be executed and tying John and Michael to Skull Rock to drown before Peter resurfaces and comes to the rescue. Some of the pirates also end up as croc-fodder.
There’s a couple of nice line reversals, pointing that, in returning to London, you need to actually take the second star to the left and go straight on ’til morning, and Wendy telling Peter that to grow up might be the greatest adventure of all, and, while it may have flaws, this is generally a compelling and – dare I say it – grown up telling of a tale about the ambiguities of both wanting to hold on to your childhood and also excited by the potential than the adult world might offer.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie (PG)
Originating in Japan, one of the first platform video games and still hugely popular among all ages, even if the name makes no sense as there’s only one brother called Mario,30 years on the foul odour of the live action adaptation with Bob Hoskins still remains. Reverting to animation, this revival looks to reboot the film franchise by sticking closely to the game’s mechanics involving jumping between platforms, avoiding obstacles and powering up by opening boxes marked with a ?
Following a prologue in which power-hungry Bowser (Jack Black), the king of the turtle-like Koopas, attacks and destroys a city of penguin creatures to get his hands on a power star that will enable him to conquer his entire universe, it then cuts to Brooklyn as Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) trying to get their plumbing business off the ground, only to end up creating chaos. Then, when they attempt to fix a broken water mains, they’re sucked down a vortex into another dimension. Separated, Luigi ends up in a fiery realm and is taken prisoner by Bowser and as such sidelined for most of the film, while Mario, who hates mushrooms, ironically finds himself in the Oz-like Mushroom Kingdom where, looking to find and rescue his more timid brother, he teams up with the tiny Toad (Keegan-Michael Key) and the warrior-spirited Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), who accidentally came there as a child. However, it transpires that Bowser is deludedly determined to either marry Peach or destroy her Kingdom, to which end they have to persuade Cranky Kong (Fred Armisen) to loan them his army, which means Mario must first defeat his son, Donkey Kong (Seth Rogan), in gladiatorial platform combat, during which he transforms into a cat. And then defeat Bowser before he can sacrifice his prisoners as a wedding gift to Peach.
Resolutely mirroring the game and loaded with inside references and songs like Holding Out For a Hero and Take On Me, devotees of the game are well-served, though in pretty much every other respect the target audience is 7-year-olds who just want a rush of cute characters, garish colours and non-stop action sequences. As Mario might say, mama mia, here we go again.